The Gazette’s Andy Riga has a story out today about the 515 bus to the Old Port, and the problems it has attracting riders – particularly as it uses a route that the mayor wants to replace with a tramway eventually.
The problems are familiar to this blog’s readers: the route is confusing with its yellow and blue signs, travels through an area of town (René-Lévesque Blvd.) already served by plenty of transit services, doesn’t do enough to attract and inform tourists, it tends to get stuck in Old Montreal traffic, people in Old Montreal tend to prefer to walk to their destinations to and from nearby metro stations (particularly in the summer), and the new residential developments it was supposed to serve (like the new Griffintown) haven’t yet emerged.
But Riga brings up an interesting point through his access-to-information request and interviews: The STM knew way back in 2007 that a circular route taking René-Lévesque Blvd. would be a waste of money:
A March 2007 study, also obtained under access to information, suggested that the route eventually chosen, particularly the section along Rene Levesque Blvd., would “increase operating costs” and duplicate service offered by “numerous other lines.”
The federal Old Port of Montreal Corp., which took part in the study, favoured the longer route that used Rene Levesque, and that was eventually accepted.
Riga quotes STM planning head Michel Tremblay saying this summer would be a “last chance” for the 515, after which the STM would re-evaluate the chronically underperforming bus route.
The article also says there have been no studies or surveys conducted for the 515 bus since its launch. So I guess I just imagined this detailed survey that was presented to a public consultation by the city last year based on a study of the 515’s use by passengers in 2008. Either that or the STM was unaware of it, which seems silly.
Riga also has some supporting documentation on his blog, which shows the STM predicting some huge spike in ridership in June that hasn’t materialized.
UPDATE (April 30, 2011): Andy Riga has more info in The Gazette, saying that cutting this useless stretch would save $882,000 a year.
Suggested solution to traffic problems on de la Commune St.
The Ville-Marie borough is holding a public consultation tonight (6 p.m. at the Notre Dame Basillica, 426 Saint-Sulpice) on the STM’s 515 bus, which has the conflicting qualities of being desperately needed and yet horribly underused.
The consultation is actually about traffic measures to be taken in Old Montreal, specifically on de la Commune St. and St. Laurent Blvd., to help the bus through heavy traffic which has been slowing it down.
Currently, de la Commune is one way westbound between Berri and St. Laurent, with only buses allowed eastbound. The 515 takes this reserved lane eastbound, and westbound actually uses Notre Dame, turning left on St. Laurent toward de la Commune (as I pointed out last summer, this particular turn is a big slowdown).
Documents presented by the borough suggest that the ridership numbers are even more dire than one might have guessed. It’s measured in the hundreds, not the thousands. A survey of residents and business owners taken last fall shows that only about a quarter have ever used the bus, and more than half of those use it very infrequently. The main reason given for not using the bus is that it’s easier to walk. Still, more than 60% of respondents approve of the route and think it should stay.
A study commissioned by the borough looked at various traffic options, mainly what kind of traffic should be allowed on de la Commune, and in which direction. It came up with two recommendations:
- Make de la Commune one-way eastbound: This would reverse the current situation for cars, and would eliminate the traffic tieups at St. Laurent where eastbound traffic must now turn left (conversely, it would create a lesser one at Berri for westbound traffic). There would be no westbound traffic whatsoever between Berri and St. Laurent, so the 515 westbound would keep its current route along Notre Dame.
- Close de la Commune to non-reserved traffic: Cars would be forced off in both directions, leaving on the 515 bus (east and west), morning deliveries by truck to local businesses, and any other reserved traffic the city wants to let in. Though this one is sure to piss off more drivers (especially because St. Paul is also to be closed to traffic this summer), it would make the street very pedestrian-friendly with only the occasional buses passing by. At the same time, with no traffic at all, the buses woud travel much faster.
Spacing Montreal has a post about the “inevitable failure” of the STM’s 515 bus to Old Montreal. It discusses many of the problems I first brought up in June when it first started.
While I agree that the line is wrought with problems (most of them predictable), I still think there should be a bus serving Old Montreal (there’s an argument that Old Montreal is served by two metro stations, but the walk is pretty far, especially for kids – 600m from the Jacques Cartier pier to Champ-de-Mars and over a kilometre from the bottom of McGill St. to Square-Victoria).
Besides, the Spacing article (and the Journal story it’s based on) cite ridership numbers in the summer and fall, which is when people are more likely to walk than take a bus. When the temperature is 30 below and the roads are slippery with ice, bus use is likely to increase in this area.
So I’d like to offer some suggestions to the STM on ways to improve service on this so-far unpopular route:
- Dump the yellow signs. They’re confusing and unnecessary. They give Montreal transit users (not to mention tourists) the idea that they’re temporary or special in some unknown way.
- Drop the route between Berri and Peel. It’s the most underused part of this underused line, and it’s completely unnecessary. This would also have the advantage of simplifying the line, which could then use the usual East/West directions instead of its confusing current circular system.
- Increase service intervals slightly. Putting a bus every 10 minutes does make it more metro-like in that people will just go to a stop and wait for the next bus, but the ridership (even if improved) simply doesn’t warrant it. A 20-minute predictable interval would make more sense.
- Put detailed information at every Old Montreal stop. Schedule, fares, places of interest along the route, points of transfer, etc. should be at every stop for the benefit of tourists. If they can learn about the system as they wait for the bus, they’re more likely to take it.
- Improve traffic flow. Certain parts of the route (like near St. Laurent and Notre Dame) are always clogged, slowing service to a crawl. New ways should be considered to improve traffic in the area, including banning all car traffic on De la Commune during the summer if necessary.
Did I miss anything? Should the route be saved?
I hopped on board the new 515 Vieux-Montréal/Vieux-Port bus today before work. The new bus route is part of a number of changes that were made as the STM introduced its summer schedule on Monday.
The trip, which goes in a circle from Berri metro down to St. Laurent and de la Commune to Peel and up to René-Lévesque, took about 20 minutes, with most of the delays due to traffic (it was the afternoon of St. Jean Baptiste day, so traffic in Old Montreal was probably higher than normal).
The fact that it was only the bus’s second day of service explained a few of the kinks that still need to be worked out, which probably led to the fact that I was the only person on board the bus for the entire trip:
- Traffic. Especially in areas around Notre Dame, Saint-Laurent and de la Commune. The eventual idea is to make de la Commune no-parking and install reserved bus lanes. There is currently one that runs for a few blocks in the western part (where it’s pointless), and it needs to be extended back eastward. The turns at Saint-Laurent and de la Commune are particularly difficult for a 40-foot bus to try and maneuvre.
- Confusion. Unlike most STM buses, this one runs in a circular route. In both directions. In such a situation, trying to say what the destination of each direction is becomes difficult, because both directions will eventually get you there. Both eastbound and westbound stops on de la Commune, for example, could say they’re in the direction of downtown, because they are. It’s just one goes up Berri and the other goes up Peel. The confusion is made even moreso by situations like in the photo below where buses in both directions stop at the same stop. So riders have no clue whether the bus they’re getting on is going in the direction they want it to.
You’ll also note the signs have yellow backgrounds. The STM is still trying to figure out what to do with that colour. Once upon a time, they were used to denote special senior’s routes in the west end, until that pilot project was cancelled due to suckage. Then it was used for special shuttles. Now they just use it for any route they think is cool. But it gives the impression that this route is strange in some way, like it needs a special fare or something.
Despite its problems though, I believe in this bus. Old Montreal is woefully underserved by public transit, and the metro is too far to reach everywhere by foot. A bus which runs every 10 minutes will be useful not just to tourists visiting the Old Port, but to residents who want to get downtown quickly.
My beloved paper has an (OMG) GAZETTE EXCLUSIVE on its front page today about a new bus route linking downtown and Old Montreal along reserved bus lanes.
I have no clue how they managed to get that GAZETTE EXCLUSIVE … I mean, unless they read my blog post a month ago saying there would be a new bus (No. 515) along reserved lanes linking Old Montreal and Berri-UQAM.
The route comes into service on June 23 (when summer schedules come into effect), and is expected to be eventually replaced by a tramway. The route is a circular one, running along René-Lévesque, Peel, de la Commune and Berri.